Education: The Greatest Gift
by Casey Murphey and Jenna Lenskold, Batonga Foundation
The holidays are in full swing - sweater season has begun and the streets are lined with people holding their steaming cups of hot chocolate! You may be thinking about what gifts you should buy for your family and friends. Perhaps Suzy wants the latest smartphone and the hottest new toy is on the top of Billy's Santa list. But what about the more intangible gifts many of us have already been lucky to receive and can still give to others?
Mahtab Narsimhan said, "A good education is the greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else." Education is one of the most vital gifts anyone can receive. We all remember the teacher who inspired us, the class that changed how we looked at the world, or the friends we met in school who helped us get through it all. Through these encounters, education provides the groundwork from which we build the rest of our life.
The statistics on the returns we get from education are impressive, especially when a girl in the developing world is educated. The World Bank estimates one extra year of secondary school increases a girl's future wages by up to 25%. In addition, when 10% more of a country's girls go to school, that country's GDP rises an average of 3%.
And yet, right now millions of girls around the world only dream of going to school. It is hard to conceptualize the struggles young girls in developing countries face when it comes to pursuing an education. As an intern at the Batonga Foundation this semester, I read stories and updates from the girls we support in Benin, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Mali each day. Recently, while scrolling through some information, I was struck by the age of one of our scholars -15- the same age my younger sister. I thought about how similar their dreams and ambitions are and yet they face very different obstacles in order to get an education. Silifa is in her third year of secondary school in Nikki, Benin. Benin is about the same size as the U.S. State of Pennsylvania. According to UNICEF, 47% of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. The cost of attending school is often very high for families like Silifa's who have very limited resources and cannot afford to buy uniforms and supplies. Shoes, for example, are usually a luxury that cannot be afforded. Silifa's father passed away when she was only five years old. Her brothers are in school, and while her sisters never attended school, Silifa is able to attend school through the support of Batonga.
Silifa's days are always full. She wakes up at 6:00 AM each day to help with chores around the home and after that, she walks nearly a mile to get to school. After a full day of studies, she returns home to finish her chores and work on her homework before going to sleep. Her favorite subjects are Biology and Mathematics. Going to school is an exciting, unexpected privilege for Silifa. For my sister and me, it was expected. On evenings with a lot of homework, it sometimes even felt like a nuisance.
Silifa's routine is startlingly different than what we were used to in high school. After a day of school, a typical student in the United States may take part in after-school clubs or sports, followed by a night of homework and helping out around the house. For Silifa and the other Batonga girls in Benin, it may be impossible for them to complete their homework as it is rare for students in Benin to have a light bulb in their home, let alone a laptop computer. Silifa does her daily chores to help her family get by; many students here do chores to earn an allowance from their parents. The little things that we take for granted, whether it be a nutritious meal, running water, electricity or education are sometimes hard to come by in Benin.
Many of us have been lucky to have access to education. Education provided us with opportunities in life that we would not have otherwise had. For Silifa, a secondary education means the chance to pursue her ambition of becoming a member of the Police Force instead of getting married at a young age and working alongside her mother at the trading market. Silifa says "With Batonga, I realized and am determined to not be like my sisters in the village who marry at the first opportunity; and drop out of school." She is building a brighter future for herself.
Education means more than just the possibility of economic advancement; education means being empowered with the ability to determine our own destiny, and that is the greatest gift of all.
To give the gift of education with to a girl in Sub-Saharan Africa this holiday season, click HERE.
Casey Murphey is a Sophomore at America University studying International Studies. She is our Communications / Marketing Intern. Casey runs our various social media platforms, manages our blog, and is in charge of any other tasks that fall under external affairs.
Jenna Lenskold is a Senior at American University studying Sociology and marketing. She is the Head Intern and is in charge of overseeing the intern team and assisting on a variety of projects.